As the Friday, June 17 deadline issued by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to political parties to submit names of their presidential standard bearers draws closer, tension has enveloped the camps of the two major political parties as they struggle to pick running mates.
While the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, is expected to pick from the Southern part, the All Progressives Congress (APC) is required to balance its ticket by going to the northern axis.
Beyond ethnic balance, the parties are also expected to reflect religious equilibrium.
For the PDP, names that have been bandied as possible running mates for Atiku, a Muslim from North East, include Governors Nyesom Wike, Udom Emmanuel and Ifeanyi Okowa all from the South South as well as former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha and deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu both from the South East. A common denomination among them is that they are all Christians.
In the last one week, Atiku has held series of consultations with PDP governors and other stakeholders on the choice of running mate.
However, the ruling party may be thrown into fresh crisis over the choice of running mate for its candidate.
Prior to his victory, political pundits, religious leaders and party faithful, had pondered on who Tinubu, a southern Muslim, would pick as deputy from the North.
APC and Tinubu are in dilemma because picking a Christian from the north would be a hard sell to the predominantly Muslim populated region while running on a Muslim-Muslim card would be a political setback nationwide of monumental proportion.
Indeed, since the return to democratic rule in 1999, major political parties have avoided fielding either Christian-Christian or Muslim-Muslim tickets in a bid to balance the religious sentiments in the country.
An attempt in 2015 by the APC to have Tinubu as running mate to Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, a northern Muslim, was stoutly resisted by party faithful led by former Senate president, Bukola Saraki, which paved the way for the emergence of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, a southern Christian.
Multiple sources told Daily Sun that the APC was in a fix on who to pick as Tinubu’s running mate.
It was, however, learnt that with the conclusion of the APC primary, negotiations and lobbying for Tinubu’s running mate kicked off with northern Christians like Governor Simon Lalong of Plateau State; Secretary to the Federal Government, Boss Mustapha and former Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakbubu Dogara, being considered, among others.
Leader of the House of Representatives, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa said Tinubu’s running mate may come from the North-East.
One of the sources said Tinubu’s Islamic background was one of the reasons many party leaders did not support his candidacy. He said picking a Christian minority from the North could be counter-productive, especially in the North West, where they are largely Muslims.
He said if APC picked a Muslim running mate, it would amount to handing over victory to the PDP on a platter, explaining that the Christian community in Nigeria would mobilise its members against the party at all levels.
He said options may have been narrowed down to North East and North Central. He also listed some possible names that are being considered by the party, to present as Tinubu’s running mate.
“As it stands today, the party won’t take that risk. APC is not as popular as it was in 2015. Nigerians don’t support APC like they did in 2015. So, the party knows that if it fields a Muslim running mate from the North, Atiku Abubakar will win even without campaigning.
“So, options have been narrowed down to North Central and North East. The party is seriously considering Simon Lalong, governor of Plateau State and chairman of Northern Governors’ Forum. He’s formidable and can get the support of Northern Christians.
“If Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State were to be a Christian, he would have been the best bet. Unfortunately, he has been ruled out. For now, Lalong appears to he the only option from the North Central.
“North East has more options. The current Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, is the leading possible running mate from the North East being considered. He is from Adamawa State. At least, he has that national appeal.
“Another option is Yakubu Dogara from Bauchi State. He is not very popular and the Tinubu camp don’t trust him because of what he did in 2015. Remember he worked with some elements and denied the South West, especially Tinubu’s man, Femi Gbajabiamila.
“Gbajabiamila was supposed to be the Speaker, but Dogara violated that pact and worked with the PDP to achieve that. Tinubu may not accept him as a running mate. Beside, he’s not popular in the North.
“In the coming days, the picture will become clearer. There are also moves to allow President Buhari to pick Tinubu’s running mate since his endorsed candidate didn’t win the primaries. If that’s the case, Lalong or Mustapha are possible candidates.”
Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has warned the APC against presenting candidates of same religion for the 2023 poll threatening legal action.
Pastor Bayo Oladeji, media aide to CAN President told Daily Sun that the Christian body stood by its previous statement opposing political parties fielding Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian candidates as presidential and vice presidential candidates.
He said: “Let’s state it clearly again that Muslim/Muslim or Christian/Christian ticket for the 2023 general election particularly the presidential election is not acceptable to us. APC tried it in 2015 and they failed. God frustrated them. They will fail again this time if they try it.
“Muslim President (Buhari) and Christian Vice (Osinbajo) have been in power in the past seven years and we know the level of verbal and physical persecution and attacks Christians have faced in Nigeria, not to talk of Muslim/Muslim ticket as being rumoured.
“There’s no religion that doesn’t have people that would man critical positions in Nigeria. Why then choose from same religion when there are different religions in Nigeria? That won’t be acceptable to CAN and we will work, legally and otherwise to frustrate the plans.” (Daily Sun)